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United Kingdom

Time for a counter attack

In Britain the wind energy Not In My Backyard campaign has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. According to press reports, turbines threaten communities in terms of noise, job losses, the slumping of house prices and the destruction of local wildlife. The Ministry of Defence is even concerned that the world's most sophisticated warplane, the Eurofighter Typhoon, can be put out of action by turbines sited off Britain's coast. The worrying truth is that as long as newspapers feed off them, communities can grow to believe what they say. Isn't it time the wind industry got serious about tackling press misrepresentation?

To guard against air invasion, hundreds of offshore wind turbines can be built along coast lines. Military defence could be a whole new area of activity for the wind industry

With an agreement on the Kyoto Protocol finally reached and world governments actively promoting the use of wind power, you might be forgiven for thinking that it is only the details of regulation that now stand between wind power and a great future. Think again.

"The KGB is coming to fight wind farms," screamed a headline in a Scottish newspaper, The Aberdeen Press & Journal, in May. No joke, not to judge by fears expressed a couple of months later by Britain's mighty Ministry of Defence. Apparently with the KGB in mind, it is seriously concerned that the world' s most sophisticated warplane, the Eurofighter Typhoon, can be put out of action by wind turbines sited off Britain's coast. That also sparked lots of headlines (and caused the British Wind Energy Association's Nick Goodall to question the technical prowess of this supposedly super-fighter). The Financial Times even put itself to the trouble of pointing out that Sweden, too, has similar defence concerns. (Oh yes, and the Belgian military also fears for the defence-destroying ability of wind turbines, but the British press seems to have missed that one, so far.)

Now OK, the KGB referred to by the Aberdeen Press and Journal is not the former Soviet Union undercover intelligence service ... rather it is the Keep Galloway Beautiful campaign group, but this is the press and they do love to spin a good yarn. The KGB fears the destruction of its local scenery, a concern raised nearly every time a wind project is proposed anywhere. Sometimes this is with good cause, but in Britain the wind energy Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) campaign has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous to the hysterical. According to any number of press reports, wind turbines threaten communities in terms of noise, job losses (a wind farm supposedly scares off employers), the slumping of house prices, the destruction of local wildlife, and are a "dangerous distraction for drivers."

While it is easy to put paid to such accusations, the worrying truth is that as long as newspapers avidly feed off them, local communities can easily grow to believe what they say and come to see wind turbines as "alien intruders," to quote an anti-wind activist in the Scotsman last month. Between May and July, newspapers the length and breadth of Britain have reported that wind power development will: ruin the fishing industry ("Trawlermen's fears over wind turbines"); threaten wildlife (Project off Great Yarmouth coast may threaten colony of terns); kill wildlife (North Wales Killing Fields Mystery); and terrify children "(My children thought they were going to be killed").

Laughable, yes. But once done laughing,

isn't it time the wind industry got serious about tackling press misrepresentation? So far the strategy has been one of spirited defence on a shoestring budget. Helmsman, however, would like to see the immediate launch of a counter attack, headed by two new organisations: "Turbines for Rural Aesthetics and Social Harmony"(TRASH) and the "Turbines Against Terror" (TAT) group.

For a start, the UK's Ministry of Defence could be informed that it is missing out on a golden opportunity to add to its defence arsenal. As The Guardian newspaper said in a tongue-in-cheek criticism of the MoD's fears, perhaps a Green Defence Policy could be developed. Helmsman sees a major role for TAT here. As protection against an air invasion, a country could build hundreds of offshore wind farms along coast lines and onshore wind farms along any land-based borders, thereby keeping enemy fighter planes out. How about equipping the turbines with warning signs: "Stop or we shoot," or "You are entering a Turbine Against Terror area?" Missiles could be incorporated into the turbines ready for action if war breaks out. This could even hold the key to getting US President George Bush on side: could wind turbines not play a significant role in his new Son of Star Wars project? Military defence could be a whole new area of activity for the wind industry.

Then again maybe not. Instead, TRASH and TAT could simply work to ensure the world's press, particularly local newspapers (the worst culprits), just get the facts right and give equal column inches to the truth so local communities can make properly informed judgements. And maybe the UK's MoD could simply ask other governments, like those of Denmark and Germany, just how they manage to keep their aircraft in the air with so many wind farms around.

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